By: Alexis Mitchell
Going to the grocery store and driving a car are two tasks that millions of Americans do every single day. However, to someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), these simple tasks can lead to anxiety and panic.
Louis Belluomini was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015. After he came back to Findlay from Iraq, he noticed he was having issues. He was a paramedic before joining the military so he thought it was no big deal and that he could handle his PTSD symptoms.
“I didn’t believe that it was PTSD,” said Belluomini.
As the symptoms worsened, Belluomini tried to mask them by hiding the PTSD symptoms from others and just tried to deal with it on his own. He started having nightmares, sleep walking, and grabbing weapons in his sleep. He even started losing control of his car when driving. After marrying his wife in 2015, then finding out he had a child on the way, Belluomini knew something had to change.
His last shot was contacting K9’s for Warriors to look into getting a service dog.
“There’s a lot of things that service dogs can do that medication can’t,” said Belluomini.
After a long application process, and a plane ride to Florida, Belluomini finally met what he now calls his “medication:” Star.
Just after two days of training with Star, she woke Belluomini up from three nightmares.
“Right then and there we knew it was going to fix things,” said Belluomini.
After bringing Star home, Belluomini scheduled an interview with ProMedica Flower Hospital to continue his career as a paramedic.
“They were so easy going about [Star], made things so easy, and accepted me into the community,” explained Belluomini.
After that interview, Star became the first service dog to an EMT in the entire country. She rides with Belluomini in the ambulance when they get a call. She even has her own spot in between her owner and his partner. According to Belluomini, people rarely ever notice Star is in the ambulance, and if they do it’s usually a positive reaction.
While Star follows Belluomini around at his job, she has her own job too, to protect her owner.
“Her job is to protect me from anything that might be approaching,” said Belluomini.
An example of Star doing her job is in grocery stores. According to Belluomini, big groups of people were a threat when he was stationed in Iraq. When Star and him are in a grocery store and she feels him getting anxious, she physically will walk in another direction and take him to a different part of the store.
When Belluomini is sleeping, Star can detect when he is having nightmares or when he is about to sleep walk. Star senses this is by changes in skin cells; she can smell the different skin cells on Belluomini and then will react. If he is having a nightmare, she paws his face to wake him up, and if she senses he is going to get up, she puts her entire body on him to prevent him from sleep walking.
It is not just all work for this service dog, however. When the vest comes off, it’s time for Star to play and act like any other two-year-old puppy would.
“There’s quite a difference,” said Belluomini, “If I took the vest off her now she would be bouncing off of the walls.”
Star is also the family pet and was even in the delivery room when Belluomini’s son was born. He says they have been close ever since.
“They are two peas in a pod,” said Belluomini.
PTSD is nothing to take lightly, there are so many different symptoms that people might not realize. Anxiety, depression, flash backs, hallucinations, stomach problems, and even morning sickness are all symptoms of PTSD.
According to Belluomini, 22 veterans and military personel kill themselves every day. Belludmini is trying to get rid of the stigma of PTSD, and help lower this number.
“We try to show that this is an option [service dogs],” said Belluomini. “If taking medications doesn’t work, if counseling doesn’t work, then this is an option you can go to.”
In fact Belluomini says if it wasn’t for Star, he doesn’t know if he would still be alive.
“If it wasn’t for K9’s for Warriors and for her [Star], I might be dead at this point,” said Belluomini.
Belluomini said that Star completely changed his life. Not only did he find his substitution for medication, but he also gained a lifelong friend, partner, and family member.
“I’ve been in a lot of bad situations in my life, whether it be as a paramedic, or a military police officer, being in the combat zone, whatever it may be, there’s a lot of bad in this world,” said Belluomini, “This is something good that can come out of that,” he said looking at Star.